Study Guide

The Witches Fear

By Roald Dahl

Fear

For all you know, a witch might be living next door to you right now. (1.24)

<em>The Witches</em> is written in the second person only for a short portion. When it is, though, our narrator really tries to instill some fear into us. He wants us to be just as afraid as he was, so that we can better understand his story.

"A witch wouldn't come in through my window in the night, would she?" I asked, quaking a little. (2.71)

When you're afraid, suddenly the most mundane, day-to-day activities (like sleeping!) seem scary. What other daily activities seem frightening to our narrator as he learns about witches?

I froze all over. (4.68)

Fear can really affect us physically, not just mentally.

Then I panicked. I dropped the hammer and shot up that enormous tree like a monkey. I didn't stop until I was as high as I could possibly go, and there I stayed, quivering with fear. (4.77)

They say that, when people encounter a dangerous situation, it's either fight or flight. Well, it's very clear that our narrator exhibits the flight end of things here. Does his reaction to fear change throughout the book?

That face of hers was the most frightful and frightening thing I have ever seen. […] There are times when something is so frightful you become mesmerised by it and can't look away. I was like that now. I was transfixed. I was numbed. I was magnetised by the sheer horror of this woman's features. (7.7-8)

When we're afraid of something, sometimes the best solution is to expose ourselves to it in order to overcome our fears (unless, of course, you're afraid of man-eating grizzly bears, that is). Our narrator does this naturally, staring at the witch because of how terrible and scary she is.

"I was living in constant terror that one of the witches in the back row was going to get a whiff of my presence through those special nose-holes of hers." (9.1)

Do you think our narrator is living in constant terror throughout the entire book? Are there moments when he's not scared when he should be? Or moments when he's scared but shouldn't be?

I ran, oh how I ran! The sheer terror of it all put wings on my feet! (12.2)

Again with the flight. Whether it's one witch offering him a snake, or a hoard of witches chasing after him at full speed, it seems we know our narrator's natural tendencies.

The maid let out a scream that must have been heard by ships far out in the English Channel, and she dropped the shoes and ran like the wind down the corridor. (14.4)

Most of the fear in <em>The Witches</em> is fear of – yep, you guessed it – witches. Here, though, we see a lady who's afraid of a mouse. That kind of puts everything in perspective, right?

"Don't go on about it, Grandmamma. You're making me nervous." (17.28)

Our narrator's grandma keeps reminding him how dangerous his adventure will be. Sometimes the more you talk about something, the more real it becomes – and hence, the scarier it is.

"Those are just details!" she cried, waving her stick again. "We shall let nothing stand in our way!" (22.59)

After our narrator and Grandmamma have triumphed over the witches, all of their fear seems to rush away and is replaced by sheer courage and confidence. Once we know we can conquer something, it makes similar somethings seem more doable. Remember your first day of first grade? It was probably pretty scary, right? Once you've done it, though, the rest of your first days seem a little easier. Now you're just a first day pro.